In the past, I did anniversary episodes that looked back at the last year, and I summarized some of the highlights from that year, but the number 250 seems to warrant a different approach. I’m not sure what it is about the number 250 though. Maybe it’s because it’s a quarter of a thousand. Maybe it’s because it’s five 50s!? I can’t quite pinpoint it, but it sure seems special. Having received a mail from our friend Eric Vogt, suggesting that I might look back at how my photography has changed over the last five years, I figured I’d work with that theme today.
To start with, I was thinking back to five years ago, which at this point would have been July of 2005. I’d not yet started this Podcast. Episode 1 went live on September 1st, 2005, a couple of months after this. I was obviously confident enough to start talking about my photography, both from an artistic and technical perspective. Otherwise it would have been pretty foolish of me to start to do a Podcast in which I would share my thoughts about these subjects. Of course, I didn’t, and still don’t, always see myself as the teacher, pushing information on you, which you simply have to ingest and assimilate to your own photography. Rather my idea has been to share what I know, or am learning about photography, in the help that it helps you on your photographic journey too.
Now though, when I look back at my images from five years ago, I cringe at some of the work I was producing back then. I feel the quality of my work has improved a great deal, and I’d like to think that those of you that have checked out the earlier episodes of this Podcast would agree. I have started to prune my galleries, and remove some of the lesser work. I’m certainly feeling the need to go through that exercise again at the moment. The interesting thing here is that I’ve done this two or three times over the last few years, and I found images each time that I simply could not live with any more, despite them making it through my previous culling sessions. This has to indicate that my expectations with regards to the quality of my work, and maybe also my tastes, are changing over time, hopefully for the better.
Also, our tools continue to improve, enabling us to create better art than ever before, without too much additional effort. I have a number of images in my mind that I know could be improved immensely, just by reopening them in Lightroom and running them through the most up to date Adobe Camera RAW process. Also, my attitude to photo retouching has changed, which will also hopefully improve my images. I used to be adamant that you cannot change how an image looks too much in post processing. Even now, I’m probably more of a stickler on this than most, but I’m much more likely to plug up the blacks a little now for example, to increase the contrast in an image making it more dramatic and sometimes more vibrant than the original might have been. I was far less likely to do that five years ago.
As an aside, when I thought that I’d put the image that I discussed in Episode one of this Podcast into the blog post, my instant reaction to the image when I viewed it in Lightroom was that I wanted to compress the blacks a little. I also added a subtle vignette, and a slightly different crop. Here’s my original image, and the 2010 version, for comparison.
The difference is very subtle but the new version is much more me, than the way I processed it five years ago. For a direct comparison and larger images to view, try clicking the thumbnails at the bottom of this post.
I’m sure my thinking with regards to how I work on my images now has also changed partly because of the healthy conversation that we have in the amazing community that has sprung up around this Podcast. Since the early days, I’ve been incredibly lucky to attract people that interact on our Photography Forum with the highest integrity [the forum is no longer available], and respect for each other, that it really is a pleasure to know and communicate with each of you. Not only am I delighted to have been able to create such a community, but I have also learned so much from many of you. My original draconian views on what a photograph should be and what it should not be have certainly changed thanks to our conversations.
I’m now much more likely to change something to improve what is essentially my art, at the end of the day, than I would have before. This doesn’t mean of course that everything you see now has been Photoshopped to death. I still do very little to my work with regards to cloning stuff in or out, but I am much more likely to do more with generic changes, like with filters, or to darken the shadows etc. to get to an image that I am ultimately more pleased with, than I would have done five years ago. I will also now push the boat out and remove the odd distraction, though I’m still more likely to do this if I was aware of the distraction when I pushed the shutter button, knowing that I would remove it later. I guess that’s just my way of punishing myself by not removing something that I simply didn’t see in the field.
There is another major way in which you, the listener’s and community members have helped with my photography, right from capture. I’ve touched on this a number of times in the past, but I’ll recap on this today too. I can certainly accredit at least a part of my improvement to each of you, because every time I raise the camera to my eye, and start to make photographs, I think of how I will talk about the experience I’m creating on a future Podcast episode. The effect that this has on me of course is that I find myself correcting mistakes that I might make before I even make them. I’m continuously running through a checklist of things that I’m doing, and thinking about how I might improve them, to bring you a more valuable experience.
Of course, there are other driving forces here. If I am working on an assignment for a client, my focus is certainly locked on providing that client with the highest quality and most suitable images for their needs that I possibly can. Even then though, somewhere at the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “if I was to talk about this in the Podcast, what would I say?” and the improvement process starts again.
What can you take away from this? I’m sure many of you are continuously trying to improve too, but if you find yourself struggling with this, you might benefit from running similar mental checks yourself. Most of us would do things differently for example if we knew we were being watched. Find some way to put a little bit of pressure on yourself to perform better than you do. Maybe that could be to join your local camera club, and to set yourself goals to talk about your images or your processes at a future meeting? That would certainly get you thinking in a similar way. Just something to keep you in check may be all it takes to take your own work to another level. I certainly would like thank each of you for providing me with this stimulus and helping to improve my photography.
Another thing that I feel has changed is my protectiveness over my images. I will still not stand for unauthorized use of my images, and I’m not quite at the point where I will use a Creative Commons license for my work either, but I find that the more I share, the more willing I am to relax on some things that I was always pretty adamant about in the past. For example, some of my portfolio slides shows can be viewed at pretty high resolution. Certainly high enough resolution that someone could do a screen capture and make a 5×7 print. That would have messed with my mind a few years ago, but now, I guess if someone wants a 5×7 of one of my images so badly that they’d do that, I should probably be flattered, not annoyed. Of course, I’d rather they came to me and bought a print, and if they ended up using their illegal copy for anything commercial, I would come down on them like a ton of bricks, but for personal use, I’m no longer that concerned.
You might also have noticed that I recently updated all of the images on my online gallery, with larger images. I now have all of my images displaying at 950 pixels wide. I’ve also reduced the large white border, to a one pixel mid-grey line, meaning that my 950 pixel wide images are pretty much all image now. This is much larger than anything that I would have been happy to share online in the past, and I think it’s all part of the sharing that I started five years ago, and continue to do each week in various ways. Now I’m thinking that I’d much rather people be able to enjoy my images, more than I feel the need to protect them. Of course, I’m still not going to be uploading full-sized JPEGs anytime soon, as some people do. That’s just asking for trouble. But I’m getting more relaxed, without doubt.
My photographic style has become more established over the last five years too, and there are probably takeaways for some of you that might not have something that you can really call your own style yet. I’ve been asked how to develop a style in the past, and this is certainly one of the more difficult questions to answer, because there is no real answer, or at least, I don’t think there are any shortcuts. In my opinion, the only way to develop your style is to let it develop itself, while you concentrate on shooting lots of images of what you love.
If you shoot without purpose, it will certainly take longer to develop a style, if not forever, to achieve a style that you feel comfortable with, but if you shoot what you love, be it wildlife, nature, portraits, sports or architecture, you will start to see patterns in your work that you gravitate towards. As you experiment, you will likely find yourself using certain techniques more than others, and if you continue to employ these techniques, the overall look will start to connect your work, even if the subject matter varies. If you are able to nail down a certain type of subject, or even create a varied body of work, but with a similar theme, using similar techniques, it’s likely that this will start to form your style.
You certainly don’t have to lock yourself down into one particular style, especially if you are prolific enough. You can form multiple styles, but then you need the discipline to try to keep them separate. You need lots of images to really form a style, and I am really just now starting to feel as though I have enough images to achieve this in certain areas of my own work. There are some holes left open, and these are areas that I will be concentrating on filling in the coming months and years. One of the things that I hope to be able to talk to you about soon, is a shoot list or schedule that will take me through more than a year of subjects that I hope to dedicate time to, to complete certain areas of my portfolio that I currently know I’m lacking in.
And that I guess brings us to a nice point to start looking to the future. I can’t go into detail about certain parts of my future plans right now, but let’s take a look at a few things that I have started over the last few weeks. The first big thing is that I am finally moving apartment! You might remember that I’ve been talking about this for a couple of years now. You might remember that the reason I couldn’t buy a large format printer was because my apartment was too small to put one in. For the last 10 years, I’ve lived with my wife in a three room apartment, basically a bedroom, living room and kitchen, with a bathroom and toilet too of course. Although my computer and desk literally occupies just a small corner of my living room, as you’ll have seen on some of my videos, my photography has taken over so much of our current apartment that there is hardly any room left to walk between boxes of paper, lens cabinets, camera bags, studio equipment and packaging and shipping materials for fine art folios and prints.
It’s become a bit of nightmare, and my wife has been an angel putting up with it, but we simply couldn’t continue to live the way we have been, so we pulled our collective fingers out, and found somewhere else. It’s out of the heart of Tokyo, over in one of the cities to the west, as opposed to the wards on the east side of Tokyo. Although the location won’t be as convenient, this is hopefully going to be a small price to pay for the extra space we will have when we move in, in just a few weeks, and the best part of it is that despite having more than double the space, it’s actually cheaper than our current apartment. We will have a combined living, dining room and kitchen, and then a separate study downstairs and a bedroom. Then upstairs, there is a largish room that will be my office and small studio, as well as a reasonably large walk-in closet, which will be my storage space for my camera and studio gear, as well as my papers and folio covers and packaging etc. The study downstairs is not going to be cluttered, so I will also be able to use that as a larger studio for portrait sessions as long as I take the screen back down afterwards.
I will also have space upstairs for a large printer, which is something that I’ve been hoping to get for so long now, it hurts. We’ve been so busy planning the actual move, and replacing pretty much all of our furniture, that I haven’t really had time to decide exactly which printer I’ll get yet, but it will be one of the Canon ImagePROGRAF series, using 12 ink cartridges. I’m looking at either the iPF6350 which is a 24″ wide printer, or the iPF8300 which is a 44″ wide printer.
The 8300 is certainly the one I want, but it weighs 143kg, almost three times as much as the 6350, and I’m not quite sure yet if I really need to do 44″ wide prints. Realistically, the 24″ version will be enough for most of my needs. The 8300 is more efficient though, because of the larger ink cartridges, and of course I can still make 24″ wide prints on the 44″ printer, and the price is actually not a whole lot more, considering. Another problem is of course, as I’ve mentioned before, since I was a kid my Mum always told me, “if you’re gonna ‘ave one, ‘ave a biggun!”. I’ve been inadvertently steered towards the bigger and better for most of my life, due to this seemingly innocent little phrase.
Of course, another huge change, the success of which is certainly partly attributed to the Podcast, is that I introduced my photography tours and workshops three years ago, with the first trip to Hokkaido in 2008. This grew to a much longer trip in 2009 and introduction of the Snow Monkey tour in 2010, and I’m now planning two trips in February 2011, once again increasing the number of days on the road. (Details can be found on my Workshops pages by the way.) I am also working on plans to increase these workshops, and expanding to other countries at some point too, but all of these plans are part of what I can’t talk about until I get a few more ducks in line.
Unfortunately, it’s not all great news. As I work on getting those ducks in line, I have had to pull out of the planned South Georgia and Antarctica expedition that I was going to be co-hosting with David Burren in November. The good news is that we are now working towards a slightly longer, photography dedicated expedition, in March 2011, which I’m really looking forward to. Details have just been released, on David’s new Web site, luminodyssey.com, and I’ll put a direct link to the expedition page in the show-notes. Again, I’m sorry I can’t be more open about my future plans at the moment, but as soon as I’m able to talk, you won’t be able to shut me up, I promise.
Anyway, with a new house, and a new office and studio on the horizon, I am very excited for the near future, and even more excited about the longer term. As soon as I have my office set up, I’ll do a video to show you how things are shaping up, so stay tuned for that.
I probably should sign off here, and leave the rest of my plans to your imagination for now. In closing, in addition to thanking you, the listeners, for giving me focus and helping me to improve my photography as well as your own, I would also like to thank those of you that also contribute to the amazing community that we have in the Photography Forum at martinbaileyphotography.com. You all make it what it is. I’d also like to say a special thank you to Landon Michaelson, Forrest Tanaka and Marisa Firpi, for your continued help with the administration and moderation of the forum and members gallery web sites. Without you guys it just wouldn’t be possible.
Also on this milestone episode, I would like to send out one last thank you to Jack Andrys, and the rest of the team over at our sponsors WebSpy, for their continued support of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast.
Aurora Expeditions: http://www.auroraexpeditions.com.au/
Music from Music Alley: http://www.musicalley.com/
Download the Enhanced Podcast M4A files directly.